tv Conversation with Henry Kissinger CSPAN May 30, 2016 9:47pm-11:41pm EDT
vietnam war summit, then took questions are the audience. this program is about 90 minutes. >> please welcome mr. david feriy, archivist of the united states, mrs. linden johnson rob, daughter of linden and lady bird johnson. a vietnam immigrant. ms. loousz lucy baines johnson, daughter of linden and lady bird johnson. and a retired major general of the united states army. a silver star, bronze star, and purple heart recipient. [ applause ] the archive of this library contains thousands of letters to
our 36th president, many of which concern the vietnam war. here are two letters from soldiers during the height of president johnson's tenure in office which reflect the dramatically contrasting views of the war held by americans, including our troops. dear mr. president, here is a picked of a little vietnamese girl and myself. she has three older sisters, two older brothers, and a younger brother. they live in a village about eight miles southeast of ten ang, their mother was killed by the vc. because of us, she is able to smile. it is our duty to keep that smile, which portrays so much on herrize face. but there are many more who do not have the freedom smile which she has. it is our duty as americans to bring happiness to those who may otherwise never be as free of care as she. to be able to pose with her and have her still look so happy gives the idea of the good we
are doing here. this is worth fighting for. this is worth dying for. i know the weight you must carry on your shoulders, sir, and i pray that god will help you. i hope this letter and picture will bring you a blessing. she says the marines are number one. sincerely yours, first corporal lee vernon burnett, u.s. marine corps dear circumstances i hope this letter finds the president in best of health. before i begin, allow me to introduce myself. i am pfc nichols, united states marines in vietnam, and this is the topic of the letter. like most of the service men site fighting here, i don't fully understand this war. we're given training, long talks, and finally a weapon, and told we have a war to fight. so the people of vietnam can have a communist-free government. in short, sir, we're fighting this war for the vietnamese people and i'd like to know why.
why should my buddies and other people's sons have to die fighting for what he doesn't understand other believe in? i've been here for seven months, and probably will be here until my 13 is completed 13 is comple well but never will be able to understand why are these americans and maybe myself must die for people who really don't seem to give a damn? most of us are hoping one day to see our loved ones, and to me this seems the most important to most of us. and if you were to ask the question what are we fighting for, the honest men would tell you to get through these 13 months to get back home. i hope you can understand our feelings and answer our questions in this letter. thank you, sir, for your time. the time you've taken to read this letter. yours truly, pfc charles e. nichols, united states marine corps. >> i'm going to read two letters
from my husband, who also was a marine in vietnam. and we got married in december in washington, and he left in march. he came home on our daughter's six-month birthday. this is may 31st, 1968. "my darling linda, today i was a very lucky man. about 11:00 this morning i was back at the bunker. the battalion cp. and walk toward the command bunker when i heard the familiar sound of incomie ining mortars. even before the first round hit i yelled incoming and dived for the nearest hole. just as the first round landed about 20 meters away. within 10 seconds other marines had dived into the very same hole on top of me. it was only big enough for two people to begin with. rounds continued to land all around us for the next minute or so. then there was a pause of about 30 seconds, and one last round landed right on the opposite
edge of the foxhole. fortunately, all the shrapnel went forward in the same direction the round was headed, and none of it came back into the foxhole. as it was, that one round which completely destroyed the two company office structures next to my office and killed a small dog which was not smart enough to get into a hole when the incoming started. my office structure was only slightly damaged, and the only marine casualties from that last round were the two mild concussioned suffered by two men who piled in on top of me. had the round landed just six inches shorter, all of us would have been killed. needless to say, we all felt very lucky even though there were a few others in the general area who did not fare so well. often chuck's company provided security for the road sweeps and
the convoys to the outposts near the cambodian border. this is an august 5th, 1968 letter. "i usuali outpost the road all the way out and pick up the troops on tanks and amtraks on the way back. otherwise, the round trip would take over a day each way. we were a little past the halfway point -- halfway point when one of the am trucks was blown up by what we later discovered was a command detonated 35-pound box mine." command detonated means it was set off by a person hiding some distance away with a fuse box instead of a regular pressure or pressure relief mechanism. it was immediately engulfed in flames as the mine ignited at least six of the am truck's 12 gas tanks. i had one entire platoon on the vehicle at the time in addition to a three-man forward air control team and a four-man amtrak crew.
the net result was 30 casualties, many from shrapnel but all from burns. just yesterday i'd returned a fairly large number of replacements and had assigned over half of them to this platoon to major for previous losses. now they're back down to almost nothing again. for tomorrow's convoy i've already made arrange 78ments to borrow a platoon from another company. someone is watching over me personally because i was ant am truck right behind the one the enemy decided to blow up and would have been just as good a target. fortunately, the enemy didn't launch a group attack -- a ground attack to go with it. i was very proud of the company again. when the chips are down, they're tremendous. >> this is a letter written to
president johnson by a captain of the republic of vietnam army, written from a u.s. training base in alabama on america's 190th birthday, july 4th, 1966. 4th of july 1966. the honorable lyndon b. johnson, president of the united states, the white house. dear mr. president, i'm captain william tordong of vietnam now under training at the u.s. army school and center at fort mcclellan, alabama. i am indebted and grateful to you for your recently thoughtfulness speeches which make me read over and over again u.s. history and its declaration of independence. again i found your speeches, the spirit of liberty which made america strong and free.
i am confident with the generous aid and encourage of your heroic nation we shall finally emerge victorious in the circle for freedom and independence. in closing it's a study i have tried to write in english for the first time. i am taking the liberty to bring to your attention as a token of my appreciation. i sincerely hope that it may express to you a burning desire to fight for freedom that almost it may serve as a self-explanation of a humble but grateful people who truly show his weakness to a true friend in order to be helped more effectively. with my very best wishes and respect to you, the leader of the free world, and to your honorable family, may i congratulate you, mr. president,
on the occasion of your independence day. thank you. >> when patrick nugent and i met the summer of 1965, he was graduating from college and already a member of the air national guard. we married a year later with a dream reception in the white house. our first child was nine months old in april of 1968 when patrick volunteered for vietnam. patrick did not have to go to war. he went because he wanted to serve his country. like many wives of a serviceman i frequently went home to my parents. lying in my bed in the white house, i often heard the picketers say, hey, hey, lbj,
how many boys did you kill today. i lived in the terror of knowing my husband and brothers-in-law, chuck robb and jerry nugent might be one of those boys. for my father it was all so very personal. three of our troops in vietnam were family. all felt like it. it was daddy's constant struggle to bring them home safely and our country to the peace table. in january of 1969 patrick wrote his father-in-law and commander in chief a letter. my father shared it with me because he was so proud of patrick and grateful to him.
his children and i remain so. forever. 12 january. my dear mr. president, chuck and i had a very peaceful and eventful christmas eve and christmas day in danang. the highlight of our yuletide season was a telephone call from you, mrs. johnson, luci, and lynda. lyn made a strong effort to converse with his daddy. but the conversation was one-sided. all on his side. someday i look for him to be president. of at&t, that is. christmas day chuck and i made three stops to distribute the articles he had gathered. our first stop was a small village some 30 miles southwest of da nang where he passed up food and toys to the villagers.
we then went to the catholic orphanage in danang and handed out all sorts of toys to the children. our final stop of the day was the naval hospital in da nang where we visited with the patients in the orthopedic ward. we also handed out writing materials and fruitcake. christmas 1968. will always be a memorable one for two reasons. number one, it was my first christmas away from my family. and i hope the last. and two, i was able to help other people appreciate the meaning of christmas. the war activity has increased somewhat since the beginning of the new year. everyone is half expecting some sort of avbs offensive around
tet. the hot areas are still located northwest of saigon along the cambodian border. ten days ago my aircraft came under mortar fire at katoum as we were coming to a halt on the runway. as usual, i didn't realize that we were being fired upon. my primary concern was to off-load the 56 g.i.s i had on board. thank god no one was hit. and the aircraft never received a scratch. the number of days i have remaining in vietnam is diminishing quite rapidly. or as the g.i.s refer to it, i'm getting short. as of this writing, i have 88 days remaining. i received my orders last week, which in effect state i am to
report to burkstrom air force base for separation from active duty upon return stateside. this letter will be my last. addressed to you as my commander in chief. i consider it both an honor and a privilege to have served under your command and direction. i didn't want to see you vacate the presidency since you are the best we have. but at the same time i respect your decision and i am extremely proud of you. our men in vietnam know you have done everything in your power to bring about a peaceful solution to the war. unfortunately, we cannot negotiate with ourselves.
nor it is our desire to abandon the hope of a free and democratic south vietnam. you and mrs. johnson are in my prayers and thoughts today and every day. love, pat. p.s., i enjoyed talking to everyone last night. thank you. >> and tonight it is indeed a tremendous honor for me to speak to you as we come together to honor our vietnam veterans and particularly those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives fighting for freedom and democracy in vietnam. each year around this time on april 30th vietnamese-american communities commemorate and honor the fallen soldiers. we also remember and mourn the
loss of millions of lives in vietnam who died seeking freedom. today on behalf of the vietnamese american community i would like to express my deepest gratitude for the sacrifices made by america during the vietnam war. 58,000 brave american soldiers and their families made the ultimate sacrifice which allowed vietnamese-american communities to survive and migrate to this great country. 50 years ago south vietnam stood as a fortress of freedom and democracy, safeguarding against the expansion of communism in i indo-china. in making the stand against communism, 58,000 americans together with 250,000 south vietnamese lost their lives. north vietnam's rallying cause
was to prevent foreign occupation and ensure independent integrity and over 450,000 north vietnamese soldiers died in the fight for that cause. today what can we say was achieved with great losses. why the communist states around the world have already fallen. vietnam still remains a communist state. north vietnam primary objective of preventing foreign occupation has now turned vietnam into a chinese vassal state. vietnam today still has neither freedom nor democracy. what has transpired in the 41 years since the war ended does not change the gratitude we have for the brave men and women of the vietnam war as we honor them today. i mention these facts because to properly honor those heroes we must examine what the sacrifice
means to us today and how much the cost for which they died still remains to be achieved. one day when vietnam is no longer under the communist control and this once land of freedom and democracy, the vietnam war will no longer be a reminder of division. instead it will be a reminder of a high price that freedom requires in all great countries. on that day i believe that we will have finally truly honored these fallen soldiers and the souls of those brave men and women. we'll be proud that their sacrifice secured the most important blessing for mankind, freedom.
>> why am i here today? i'm here today because a young man saved my life and changed my life. in four years of combat there were many soldiers who did this for many of us. the name is larry morford. he was 24 when he was killed. 15 days before coming home. this man was in a battalion i commanded in '69-70. in that area if you could remember it was the height of the anti-vietnam war. larry was a fervent christian. yet he was one of the very few who volunteered in a battalion i had over 90% were draftees. he was one of the very few
volunteers. one day i asked larry, why if you're such a christian are you here? i know you don't believe in combat. as the way to resolve conflict. and i know you that don't believe we should be in vietnam. why are you here? his answer was simple. "sir, i could not stay home when others were fighting this war. sir, also the job that you and i are doing is the job of the beast and the least beastly of us should be doing it." that was sergeant morford's message. he lived his sermon. he's the man that has inspired me to create an award every year at west point, a sergeant morford award that sends west point cadets to china also.
to teach preventive medicine in chinese high school. he along with a corporal by the name p lei fung who was killed at age 24 are two soldiers that are remembered in china. we're trying to make soldiers be role models of what a good citizen should be. as cardinal spellman mentioned, a religious leader in the united states, he said it this way. if i had not been a priest, i most certainly would have been a soldier. because they're both called to do the same thing. protect the innocents and right the injustice. i listened to mark, our host, and he has given me a very strict rule. and i must tell you that i left the army and went to medical school and became a missionary in africa.
and in africa the rule is very simple. you can only speak as long as you have one leg up. when you can no longer keep that leg up, you must give up the podium or the audience can spear you. so let me end it by saying it's only fitting that my remembrance of sergeant larry morford should be followed by sergeant henry kissinger. because many of you probably don't know that before dr. kissinger became famous he was a sergeant in the u.s. army. may your parachutes open. [ applause ]
chairman of the lyndon baines johnson foundation. [ applause ] >> good evening. as chairman of the lbj foundation, it is my privilege to welcome you to this keynote presentation of the vietnam war summit. lyndon johnson would have been very proud of this summit and would have wanted it to take place. he would particularly have been proud that the valor and commitment of the men and women who served this country in vietnam is being recognized and honored here. while few people seek disagreement and dispute, lyndon johnson never shied away from controversy. when this library was dedicated, lbj famously proclaimed "it's all here. the story of our time with the bark off. there is no record of a mistake
or of an unpleasantness or a criticism that is not included in the files here." the exhibits and papers in this lineally certainly testify to the remarkable accomplishments of lbj's legacy. his monumental successes in civil rights were chronicled in the summit programs held in this library just two years ago. but this library does not ignore lbj's anguish, the tragedy of the vietnam war. his greatest disappointment was the failure to achieve peace in the war in vietnam that he inherited and pursued. president johnson always wanted this stage to be the forum for the great issues of the day. that includes reflections and revisiting of events of an earlier period to learn lessons to apply to the current time. so that is why i can say with certainty that president johnson would welcome the discussions of
this summit including criticisms of decisions and actions that were taken 50 years ago. to borrow president johnson's own words, the aspirations of this summit is to revisit the entire story of vietnam with the bark off. there should be no record of a mistake or an unpleasantness or a criticism that is not included in this forum. now it is my pleasure to introduce lbj foundation chairman emeritus tom johnson, who will present the program tonight. [ applause ] >> thank you, larry. it is my honor and my privilege now to introduce my friend dr. henry kissinger. dr. kissinger and i have known each other since 1967, when he was a relatively young professor
at harvard university and i was a very low-ranking member of president johnson's white house staff. in july 1967 dr. kissinger was a top secret channel for president johnson through fresh interimmediate areaies with north vietnamese prime minister phan van dong and the aging ho chi minh. through dr. kissinger president johnson offered a bombing halt if if a cessation of bombing would lead to productive discussions between the united states and hanoi. president johnson even proposed a direct meeting between dr. kissinger and hanoi's representatives. ands a good faith measure president johnson unilaterally halted bombing in the vicinity of hanoi.
the north vietnamese response was entirely negative. and i quote. "we can neither receive mr. kissinger nor comment on the american views as transmitted through this channel." in a very classified meeting in the cabinet room on october 18, 1967 president johnson and secretary of state dean russ, secretary of defense robert mcnamara, and nsc adviser walt brostow asked dr. kissinger to make one more attempt. the north vietnamese response, and i quote, "there is no reason for us to talk again." what we soon learned was that hanoi was planning a massive all-out assault throughout vietn vietnam. a sledgehammer blow designed to shatter the north vietnamese army and for them to hopefully
drive the united states out. on january 30, 1968 hanoi had launched its tet offensive. it was much more massive than the cia or our military leadership had anticipated. president johnson and virtually all of us around him were shocked. the north vietnamese and veet kong attacked 46 of vietnam's provincial capitals and five of its six largest cities. thousands were killed, but united states forces prevailed and won in every single battle, including a massive battle at wei. despite his best efforts and the efforts of the french intermediary, the kissinger-paris channel which was code-named philadelphia was killed as well. in my opinion, no two men so
wanted an honorable peace in vietnam as did dr. kissinger and president johnson. lbj died before a peace treaty was negotiated. however, dr. kissinger and president nixon did advice the president, president johnson at the ranch just a few days before his death that what they thought would be an honorable peace agreement was about to be signed. unfortunately, the peace agreement dr. kissinger negotiated was violated by hanoi and completely disregarded within months of its signing. but the american people, especially the anti-war activists, and we know there are many in this room tonight of that era, anti-war activists everywhere, especially on american campuses and the american congress and the american press had had all of
the war that it could take. united states troops did not lose the war. they literally won every engagement. however, after eight long years most americans had lost the will to fight. the price had become unacceptably high. and hanoi, hoe chimen and charu chiop never seemed to lose their will to continue the war until they had reunited north and south. i know there are men and women in this auditorium tonight who have disagreed and continue to disagree with henry kissinger. yet i will assure you that he and lbj also wanted peace as much as they did, an honorable peace that would stop the war and permit the people of south vietnam to remain free from communism, from repression, and
from totalitarian rule. how do i know? i know because i was there. i know because i took the notes of their conversations. i read the transcripts of their telephone calls. and their meetings. sometimes without dr. kissinger knowing i was on the line. i served as a confidential link between dr. kissinger and former president johnson until president johnson died. they both wanted an honorable peace. for his efforts dr. kissinger won the nobel prize. and after you see a brief presentation, a video of dr. kissinger after he negotiated that peace treaty, we will bring him forward to introduce him to you. thank you. 3w4r
[ applause ] >> the united states is seeking a peace that heals. we have had many armistices in indo-china. we want a peace that will last. and therefore, it is our firm intention in our relationship to the democratic republic of vietnam to move from hostility to normalization and from normalization to conciliation and cooperation. and we believe that under conditions of peace we can
contribute throughout indo-china to a realization of the humane aspirations of all the people of indo-china. and we will in that spirit perform our traditional role of helping people realize these aspirations in peace. >> ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the former secretary of state, dr. henry kissinger. [ applause ] >> dr. kissinger, welcome. it is a privilege to have you on this stage. one of the things i think most
people don't realize is that you are not only the national security adviser to -- and secretary of state to president nixon and secretary of state to president ford but also a part-time consultant to president kennedy and president johnson, as tom johnson just alluded to. so more than any living person, i think you saw all the principal commanders in chief around vietnam up close. can you talk about each of those men and what characterized their position on the war? >> first of all, let me say what an honor it is for me to be here. and to participate in a conference which is needed to heal wounds of the debates about vietnam. and so i want to congratulate
the library for organizing this and providing the opportunity. i'd like to say also that it's sort of symbolic that secretary kerry is coming here tomorrow night. he was walking around with placards outside the white house when i served there. and the point i want to make is we've become good friends in the interval. and he came to my 90th birthday party and made a toast in which he said -- he pointed out what his actions had been then and that it was a pity that we didn't have an opportunity to talk rather than confront each other in that period. in that period he and i have
worked together when he was chairman of the foreign relations committee. and i greatly respect his efforts now. and it's very meaningful that this conference would end with a speech by the distinguished leader of america now. now, to answer your question, in the kennedy administration vietnam was at first a relatively peripheral issue. the dominant concern about i indo-china in the kennedy administration was the future of laos. and because they in turn had received the advice from president eisenhower in the
joint session that the future of laos might determine the future of vietnam. there was a document that the chinese produced by lin biao, who was then the successor to mao, who said that the whole world was going to be characterized by a struggle of the countryside against the cities. and the kennedy administration tended to interpret what was going on in indo-china as part of that process. but in those days we had only a few thousand advisers there. but that number was increased to about 50,000 in the kennedy administration. but it was not yet a central
obsession of american policy. then lyndon johnson inherited a situation in which the government of vietnam had been overthrown. the north vietnamese had infiltrated regular divisions and not just guerrilla forces. if i could observe, lyndon johnson thought he was carrying out the spirit of the policy that had been studied by president kennedy when he ordered the increase of forces and then gradually, as the administration went on, a president who all his life had
been known as concerned primarily with domestic policy, was engulfed in a division of the country that in a way has lasted to this day in its perception of foreign policy. and i must say he was an anguished person because he wanted peace but his notions of peace were that you made a compromise. and that is the one thing that the north vietnamese were never prepared to do. and indeed, i became involved because the normal attempt to achieve negotiations had all
been blocked and i became involved in the following way. i was at that time a professor of harvard. with no standing in the hierarchy in washington. and i attended a scientific conference in europe. and at that conference there were two individuals who talked to me because they knew i had been in vietnam for a few weeks earlier that year at the invitation of ambassador lodge. well, one of these two people had been the host of ho chi minh when ho chi minh lived in paris for a year to negotiate peace with the french. and he offered to go to vietnam and call on his acquaintance on
behalf of peace for the united states. i called up secretary mcnamara to tell him about this. secretary mcnamara discussed this with president johnson. and amazingly, president johnson interested a professor at harvard which was not the constituency that most favored him. with being an intermediary to two frenchmen that no one had ever heard of before. they were sent off with a message from president johnson to ho chi minh that outlined the circumstances under which he was
prepared to make peace. and they were received by ho chi minh. and they came back with a reply which after six years of negotiations in various administrations we learned was a typical north vietnamese vague reply that basically rejected the proposal but made it sound as if maybe there was something, so they brought back the reply, and i won't go through all the details. but i was sent back with another message. none of this effort did i ever see a vietnamese negotiator. i dealt with two frenchmen. they dealt with the vietnamese.
on for about three months. and then after a while we realized that there were -- that they were stalling. but i mentioned this only to show the dedication of president johnson to achieve an honorable negotiated peace from the very beginning. president nixon had the problem of how he inherited the war. there were already 500-plus thousand troops in vietnam. and he had the same issue as president johnson. how do you end this war? and how do you withdraw these troops without leading to a collapse of the whole structure
in indo-china and some of our allies in the rest of south asia were telling us the collapse of the whole structure. you can ask me questions about individual decisions. >> sure. >> that were taken. and president ford was president in the very last phase of the war. but at the very end when the war, when it was obvious and we were talking only about the evacuation of the last batch of civilians that were stuck at the airport in saigon, and i called him and said that we -- we have to permit the evacuation of
saigon. and if you read that phone conversation between him and me he realized we had to leave. but he wanted to squeeze out another 12 hours to see whether we could rescue a few more people. so all the presidents were haunted in their way. each of them were dedicated to coming with it to finding a peaceful solution. each of them had the dilemma, how you relate american other to the ending of the war. and that was the dilemma. there was nobody who wanted war. there was nobody who wanted to escalate the war. they all wanted peace. but the question was under what conditions can you do that without turning over millions
who in reliance on the word of previous presidents had comm committed themselves. >> dr. kissinger, let me go back to john f. kennedy. there is widespread speculation that had he not been assassinated president kennedy would have reversed course and withdrawn troops from vietnam, despite any evidence to that end. is there anything you saw from president kennedy that suggests that over time he would have withdrawn our support for the war in vietnam? >> i've never seen the slightest evidence of this. it is possible to say he would have done this. but all the moves of the kennedy administration while kennedy was alive were in the direction of increasing our commitment.
and not diminishing it. all based on the belief that it's a simpler problem than it turned out to be. but i have never seen a piece of paper that would indicate this. and all of the chief advisers of president kennedy who were taken over by president johnson when he became president were unanimous in both presidencies in supporting the course that was adopted until things got very difficult. and then of course divisions appeared. but i have never seen them -- i know no evidence that president kennedy would have done this. >> lyndon johnson was a domestic
policy sage. he knew how to get deals done. he knew instinctively what to do. there are many who think he was out of his depth in terms of foreign policy. what is your view of johnson as a foreign policy president? >> president johnson was saddled with a war from the first day in office. so you can't really judge what the foreign policy tendencies of a president who was swallowed up in a way by the war in vietnam without any question. johnson was a master in knowing the nuances of domestic policy.
and he did not know the foreign leaders as well as he did the domestic constituencies. so it didn't come as naturally to him. as it did in domestic policy. but on the foreign policy issues other than the war in vietnam he had a very good relationship with our allies and our enemies. he was very eager to come to some some agreement with the soviet union. but everything was so overlaid by the war in vietnam. i thought president johnson was a formidable individual of in some ways it was a personal
tragedy that he spent so much of his life to achieve that office in order to be impelled to do things that had not been his major focus. but i thought he was a strong figu figure, and i felt great respect and affection for him. >> it has long been alleged that richard nixon's presidential campaign in 1968 tampered with the peace process by sending an emissary in anna chenault to the south vietnamese to urge them to withhold from negotiations with the north vietnamese because they might get a better deal from a president nixon. what is your view of that, dr. kissinger? >> i have no personal knowledge of whether that contact actually took place in the way it has been alleged. but assuming that the story is
essentially correct, i do not believe that it had -- that whatever nixon did had any of the consequences that have been alleged. you have to remember, this aspect of our relationship with the vietnamese. the vietnamese, our vietnamese allies were always in a nearly desperate position. they needed our help as an essential component. so when a peace process was going on, they had a tendency to agree to provisions we put forward on the theory that the north vietnamese would -- so in
'68 we experienced what nixon then experienced four years later. that when the point came actually to undertake the negotiations and they would have to assume responsibility for the outcome that then the south vietnamese leaders felt it necessary to demonstrate to their own people that they hadn't been forced by the united states to do this. and so they started a debate about something that i'm sure president johnson in his day, and i know president nixon in our period thought had already been settled.
so one of the key issues was actually to sit down at the tab table. and that of course then produced the necessity for the south vietnamese to sit down at the same table with the people who had been fighting to overthrow them. from the south vietnamese communist side. and so when that issue arose as a consequence of the negotiatio negotiations, president deu dug in and they started a debate about the way the negotiation could even start. we faced exactly the same thing in a different way four years later. we made tentative agreement with
the south -- with the north vietnamese, and we thought the south vietnamese had agreed to each of the terms when we had discussed them. but then when they were actually put forward we went through six weeks of controversy about nuances and details. so that was inherent. that would have happened whether nixon wrote this note or not. secondly, so you could -- so some delay between the announcement and the sitting down was in my opinion inevitable. and that -- by the nixon letter. that's one thing to remember. in the public debate it is often alleged that peace could have been made if somehow they had all sat at the same table.
there was absolutely no chance of this whatsoever because on november 3rd, two days after these announcements were made, the vietnamese published their conditions, which they've never changed for the rest of the johnson administration and for the rest of the nixon administration which were the united states had to withdraw totally and form a coalition government dominated by communists before any negotiation could take place about anything else. so the johnson administration official position at that time was a published position that the north vietnamese had to withdraw before any withdrawal of americans could even take place. so those conditions were
maintained for the rest of the johnson administration. and they were the principal obstacle to the failure of the negotiations in the nixon administration. until the vietnamese were defeated in the sequel to the tet offensive, that tom johnson mentioned. the one thing that the nixon administration would not concede, it's that we would overthrow an allied government that had supported the united states in reliance on promises made by other prominent presidents. and as soon as the north vietnamese agreed that the existing government could stay, which was at the very end of the
nixon administration, a settlement was achieved. and i mention it only because america should not torture itself on the view that it could have had a settlement earlier if their president had been more willing. they could not have had a settlement except for just selling out and withdrawing unconditionally, which nobody would have supported. >> there was a -- bob haldeman, president nixon's chief of staff, said in a 1978 television interview, nixon had no intention of quickly pulling out of vietnam. he aimed to exploit the rivalry between china and the soviet union to improve relations with both of them. vietnam was an expedient where america's bona fides, our intentions, our motives were being acted out. nixon believed that america had
to nosh from strength to prove its willingness to fight. vietnam became that place. how do you respond to that? is that characterized in your view nixon's position on the war? >> it characterizes part of nixon's position in the war. this can be interpreted by professional critics of nixon to mean that he fought so that he could do some other things. that was not what he thought. he thought that if america discredited itself by abandoning its commitments in vietnam he could not do the bigger things that were needed in order to make the war in vietnam fit into a global perspective. so in the sense that he said
this is not only about vietnam but this is about trying to create a world order in which vietnam can no longer occur, in that sense it's correct. >> you say in your book "ending the vietnam war" that the domino theory was real, the domino effect would have played out. what would have been the consequences of not waging a fight in vietnam in your opinion? >> look, the problem of any foreign policy decision is that you have to make it on the basis of assessment you cannot prove true when you make them, that they depend on a judgment and you can always come up with a counterfactual argument.
a person who had a great influence on our thinking and i believe also to some extent on president johnson's thinking certainly was prime minister de quan yu from singapore. one of the great men that i have met. he inherit ed a per capita incoe of $600 and turned it in 20 years into a significant country with a per capita income of $55,000 without any natural resources based on the dedication and quality of the -- of his population. he was convinced and so were many others that if vietnam collapsed at the time that
presidents kennedy and johnson made their decision that then the whole south asia would be engulfed and that the same >> and he maintained that opinion until death and his death and he was not a cold warrior in the abstract. she was a judge of what it took to keep his little country secure. and i agree with that. so i think that the president that made the major decisions.
>> in a 1971 memo you wrote to president nixon updating him of the situation he wrote a handwritten note on that same memo which read k, we have had ten years of total control in the air in vietnam, the result equals zilch. there's something wrong with the strategy or the air force and yet the night before in a cbs interview president nixon said the results have been very very effective. i think their effectiveness will be demonstrated. publicly, president nixon is saying the bombing is effective. privately to you he said they have done zilch. it's very -- every scratch of
paper should be collected and especially a legal document. they were 80 mile ace day under constant pressure and they write a note to their advisor in frustration that it's still going on and he said what did you do when you received it? i said i did nothing. and he couldn't believe it. why would i do nothing because i
had looked at president nixon for ten years, five years and when you got the message like this, i had a tendency after awhile to wait to see whether there would be a follow up. and if you think about it that would be the normal way. and on the first assessment of the air campaign you cannot possibly say that it achieved nothing it achieved everything that you wanted and you can break it down and probably nixon
might have slightly exaggerated what he said publicly and he surely exaggerated his frustration in a handwritten note. probably late at night and what's where the comment was made. >> but nixon is a person that you write often he would say one thing and mean another so you have to judge when he would say -- >> had a very clear idea of what he wanted and you have to
understand you cannot survive as security advisor. you only only one constituent. it's the president of the united states and you must be absolutely straight with him and the most important thing a security advisor can do and must do is to tell the president the options he has. sometimes he has to save the president from ill considered first moves and if you abuse that, it's at an end. so nixon is now generally known, hated person of confrontation so therefore in face to face
than face to face conversations. most when i was security advisor were based on memoranda and not conversations. they played a very important role in creating the mood but it was best to do it in writing. >> you won the nobel peace prize. many allege you are a war criminal due to the systematic carpet bombing in cambodia.
they launched attacks into vietnam. and they were put there in opposition to the local -- to the cambodian government. that if we pop those areas and they would close their eyes doing the lbj administration decided not to do this because they were already under pressure domestically and better than i
do. but then, the -- when nixon came in, nixon already took office and sent a message to the north vietnamese that he was eager for negotiations. in the third week of the nixon presidency they started an offensive in which every week 500, up to 500 americans were killed and many of these attacks, more than half of these attacks came from the areas and occupy those four divisions inside cambodian territory and
suffered 1500 causalities. in ten years of war in afghanistan and nixon ordered attacks within five miles of the quarter that is unpopulated. and the size of the attacks probably much less than what the obama administration has done in similar based areas. in pakistan. and therefore i believe that what was done in cambodia was
justified and when we eventually wiped out the areas the causalities went down by 80% and so those i would bet that sooner or later any president would have had to do it because this is what -- if you find it and permits based areas for which the killing euns say that you are in an absolutely helpless position. i was security advisor. i strongly favored it because i was to come in but i certainly was strongly supportive of it.
and he said at a press conference i don't know what goes on in a part of my country in which no cambodians live and which is occupied by the vietnamese. if any cambodian is killed i will protest. he will never protest. toward the end of his life he stood on the stage after publishing a book and expressed regret over the war and how it was raged. it said that the war was futile and his conduct was wrong, terribly wrong. have you any regrets on any of the actions that you took in vietnam? >> no, we took -- you always
make mistakes. and the american president and those of us that worked with him are acting on the basis of their best judgment at the time. and i think that the different mistakes were made. on the course of discussing the vietnam war and discuss how much it can learn from these. and i'm proud of the service and
i must say bob was a really good friend of mine. and i have huge regard for him. >> what is the biggest lesson we should draw from the war in vietnam. and the biggest question for the quality. we have lived behind two great oceans. and a lucky part of the country had lived in the center part of the country. with the consciousness of
dangers. and inherently could not develop in the same way as asia and europe and therefore americans have a den tendency to think that peace is the normal condition among people and countries and when there is war or when there is instability it is sort of an accident. which you can remedy by one set of actions after which you can go back to a condition of great stability but most are caused by circumstances that have a very long time to develop. so to answer your question, we
have been involved in five wars since world war ii. we entered each of these wars with a wide public consensus. there was an 80% support for every one of these initial acts but then after some period of time then people say we have to end it and you need an extracation strategy. the best strategy to get out but you can also cause a defeat. so if you end a war you should do it for objectives that you can sustain and if you can't,
or know when you have to end it. those are lessons you also have to learn also from vietnam and we also have to learn to moderate out of a debate because of the vietnam war and form into an attack on the moral quality of american leadership and when one teaches it's people that they're run by criminals and fools then you can get a
political debate that becomes more and more violent and we suffer from it in some of our current debates. that's one lesson we should draw from the vietnam war. we should moderate the argume s arguments. >> based on that view, how would you assess the war in iraq. >> the war in iraq. first of all. let me be clear. i supported it a different kind of war.
we failed to make, in iraq and maybe in syria, we failed to make anlages which goes back to my original point, namely, we look at these countries as if they were one unit. >> right. >> and then we see a ruler that is oppressive. and we say let's get rid of this ruler and then the people of iraq or the people of syria have a democratic government that can restore stability but what has happened in iraq and in syria both, at the end of world war i the european victors organized a
group of tribes, religions, ethnic entities. one of them was syria that had a majority of sunis and shia which in syria are the minority of sunnis and majority of shia. so in each case the american president said let's get rid of that guy and we will have stabili stability. but getting rid of the top guy produces a conflict among the various minority groups who are fighting for preimnance so we
have to learn that when we get into nation building it's such a war we have to engage in. so i think we did not understand the complexity of nation building. >> right. >> that's how i would assess the war in iraq. we got into something deeper than we assessed at the beginning. >> he has graciously consented to take a few questions from the audience and i will ask him another question as you wish to ask questions, queue up behind the microphones on either of the aisle. i ask please that you ensure that your question is in fact that a question and not a
statement and that you be as grief as possible in asking that question. >> let me -- it's impossible to ignore the election as it plays out. you said in a 2014 interview with scott simon of national public radio that you think hillary clinton would make a good president but you intended to support the republican nominee -- >> i'm not going to get into that. >> is it fair to say, that that 2014 was a long time ago? are you still inclined to support whoever the republican party nominee is? >> i haven't made any
pronouncements. >> fair enough. >> you were kind enough to say i would answer questions. i insisted on answering questions. i wanted to. >> i must say to his ever lasting credit he called me several weeks ago and said i want to take questions from the audience. i'll take any question that they offer to me. i ask that you ask your question again briefly and in a civil manner and we'll start with this gentleman on the left. >> when the 1962, they counted on the vietnamese to honor the neutralization which didn't happen and they did not acknowledge that that accord was
broken. in your agreement you had a side expectation of the north vote in a meez moving their troops out. that didn't happen -- >> you can say at least until recently that north vietnamese must hold the olympic record for breaking agreements. the 1962 agreement, if you was convinced that it was the key. that if one believed that
vietnam was important to the security of the united states then one had to keep them from falling under north vote in a meez domination and he was reporting to the administration then they should make an issue of it and sealed to imply that it would favor using some american troops to achieve this. being that country had the objective. the kennedy administration was not ready to put in forces but threatened that it might.
and it was broken almost immediately and they turned it into a supply base and most of the supply roots went through there. in 1972 we had a lot of practice in violating north vietnamese agreements but we were faced with the near certainty that the congress would vote an end to the war. no matter what action would be taken and we believed that the
provisions of the vietnam agreement if we could enforce them would protect the other two countries. we thought they could with stand all but an all out attack and we meant to enforce the agreement. and then watergate destroyed the possibility and the congress legislated a prohibition against any attempt to enforce it so he will not know what might have happened but by the time these agreements were made in 1972 it
was to a point where they were debated and it goes back to the point that i made earlier. if we end the war make sure that it can be sustained. but the opponents also have to understand that if they can think if they achieve their objectives by undermining all government then of course no strategy can succeed. >> yes, ma'am. >> thank you. it is widespread that you have
agreed to arrange for china to take over the island in 1974. on whose behalf did you do so and given the current south china sea situation and all the concerns in asia and pacific ocean what advice would you give president xi, president obama and secretary kerry? thank you. >> i'm not sure that i fully understood the question. if the situation that we agreed in 1974 that china could take over -- >> restate the question if you would. >> it was understood that the u.s., under your supervisor as security advisor had arranged so that china could take over the
parasail islands in 197 period 4 so that we don't lose that area to russia. now today what would you suggest us do on behalf of the national security of the u.s. and given all the attacks china is doing on the u.s. on all fronts. do you think that the agreement that you signed in 1972, 71, 73, and all that time is worthy of our 58,000 death of the american soldiers. >> thank you. >> first of all for the benefit of the two or three nontexas graduates here that may not know what the islands are, it's a
group of islands in the south china sea located between china and vietnam. and they are either closer to vietnam than china. the chinese claim these islands because hundreds of years ago a chinese emperor drew a line in the pacific near the philippines and said everything on that side belongs to china.
and the american position with respect to the islands has been that certainly we do not take a position on these islands. in 1974 in the midst of watergate, the war in the middleeast, i can assure you the islands were not foremost on our mind. but there is no agreement that was ever signed in which we gave china the right to occupy the
islan islands. so there was no specific negotiation. >> thank you, ma'am. >> yes, sir. your question. >> i was a south vietnamese soldier that spent ten years in communist prison tied to the very agreement you signed in 1973. 47 years ago you assured my president that you would support, you would send troops to help our nation troops to defend them but you did nothing
and the result is that vietnam fought with them and i expect that you should answer the question what we learn from vietnam war that we would never betray any ally that defend honor and judge us very much. thank you. >> i have great sympathy for these questions from vietnamese. they had a right to think we had promised them support through administrations including the one in which i served when vietnam was collapsing, it was
impossible to convince the congress to pass any additional funs. we're talking now about 1975. there were 35 other nations that had signed on to the agreement when it was made in 1973. we appeal to all of them and it was one of the saddest moments of my life and all of us who were -- and the day of the evacuation of saigon was one of the saddest moments of my life and all of us who had seen the dedication of vietnamese and the dedication of those people that
served there and little of which you heard. i have sympathy for your question and i hope no other american leader of this time gets similar questions but the fundamental failure was the division in our country. without that we could have managed it. >> yes, sir. >> is it working now. >> there you go. >> he justified himself. >> after the offensive, after lbj refusing to run again. after walter cronkite there was
peace with honor yet it cost tens of thousands of causalities. would it have been better to skip the honor and dodge so many of the causalities getting out earlier? >> what was the question? >> given the fact that peace with honor took such a toll in terms of human life would it have been better just to with draw all together? is that a fair? >> the invasion of cambodia, the extended time of the u.s. soldiers, certainly later '69, '70 sustained causalities. perhaps we should have just withdrawn. >> thank you. >> if you look at the democratic
party at that time and nobody in 1969 and 70 recommended unilateral and the deposition of the administration was that vote in a meez troops had to with draw first and six months after that american withdrawal and an withdrawal of american troops. and clearly we can understand the consequences of this war. i don't know anybody that
recommended it at that time. that by two years later we were talking about increments of withdrawal. and all of these causalities. of course if you lose a war you get them but what it achieved in any event was that the southeast asia was not over and it probably made a contributing factor to the opening -- to the opening to china. but it was a bitter ending. >> i don't blame you or any
administration and perhaps the fault is not in the stars but in all of ourselves. >> just a statement. this is the last question on the right here. >> and you're an interesting individual and influence our world in many ways. the war on drugs was issued under nixon and the long-term of it, we have more people in prison and in china. 70% of our prisoners are not violent. do you think the war on drugs is worth it and do you think it should be continued into the 21st century and we should continue it or look at it as a failure or was it a victory? what do you think of that war on drugs. >> the war on drugs and domestic policy matter.
>> i don't think any statement i can make on the war of drugs -- >> fair enough. >> but i want to make one other point here. my observations at the american audience i have great sympathy for the vietnamese in this audience and of course their perspective has to be different. and i'm sorry but not because of any action the administration in which i was involved but it's a
historic strategy that they divided and could not solve the domestic debates so that it could come out of the war. and is more compatible. >> you have made your mark on history. what will history say about him? >> i have hoped about this. i had the good fortune of being able to come to the united states when many of the people
have driven it so i have always been deeply grateful to this country. and i know what it represents. and i've been lucky at being able to execute my concerns as my profession? and so i am not involved in what i'm doing in order to get history written about me. it's an extensive record. and i might say the massive material that is produced now in
the internet age i'm not sure whether you can say history will come to a fair judgment anyway. that's all i can say. [ applause ] >> we are not only grateful for you for being our honored guest tonight but serving our country in world war ii. we have many veterans out there including yourself and i would ask now that you stand and be recognized by this audience, please. [ applause ]
only on c-span 3. >> with congress in recess american history tv programs are airing in primetime on cspan 3. look for our history features including a vietnam war summit. a 50th anniversary retrospect t ive on the conflict and then a conversation with film makers. >> by the time we got four or five decades away where the triangulation can take place and you can have the distance and perspective necessary to not just make a reactive or journalistic response but something that is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts you begin to realize almost everything you thought you knew was not true. >> wednesday a look at the war from the perspective of those that fought it and u.s. foreign relations after the war.
thursday our real american series looks at the church committee hearings convened to investigate the intelligence committees of the irs and nsa and with the national museum of african american history opening in september an all day conference with talks on african american religion and politics and culture and african american history as american history. >> i couldn't get that out of my mind that my students were thinking that somehow this african american history wasn't real because there was no textbook textbook taught in the agreement of history so i decided to write a real textbook. >> for the complete american history tv schedule, go to c-span.org.